Before the inception of the Premier League in 1992, the two sides that dominated the narratives of English football were Manchester United and Liverpool. These two sides share between themselves 38 league titles even though Liverpool are yet to win the Premier League in its new format.
This rivalry is one of the biggest rivalries in English football history and in the world. It is not just about the tackles, dribbles and goals by the players, the touchline drama by the coaches or the ever vociferous nature of the fans, it also has to do with some other things which makes these fixture, arguably, the biggest in the United Kingdom.
The rivalry between the two clubs dates back the Industrial revolution of the 19th century as both cities were renowned to be hubs of trade and commercial activities in the United Kingdom at the time. While Liverpool had one of the world’s greatest port, Manchester, which is just thirty-five miles away, flourished in cotton as the city was regarded as “Cottonopolis.” The port in Liverpool would trade what Manchester made and it also served as a trade route where the Cotton from Manchester are transported to other parts of the world. Hence, both cities shared a lot in common during the Industrial Revolution.
However, both cities had a fall out during the era of the great depression; an economic downtime in the period spanning 1929-1939. The dues charged by the port and railways in Liverpool on goods were perceived to be high by the Manchester Business community. Therefore, a ship canal was built which made Manchester have direct access to the sea for import and export of manufactured goods. The Idea was championed by Daniel Adamson. Eventually, the economic relationship and benefits both cities enjoyed went into a decline.
In football terms, both cities became home to two big clubs; Manchester United and Liverpool, who achieved tremendous records both in the league and on the continent.
Manchester United, known as the Red Devils, won five league titles and one European Championship in the 1950s and 1960s while Liverpool held the bragging rights at the time with eleven league titles and four European titles in the 1970s and 1980s. This was where the rivalry practically began. Liverpool’s staggering success brought lots of hates and resentments on the part of Manchester United while Liverpool were irritated by the fact that despite Manchester United’s inferiority to them, the Red Devils had a more global appeal than them and this further increased the tension between the two clubs.
The tension got to its peak in 1985 when Liverpool fans welcomed Ron Atkinson’s Manchester United with tear gas at a league game inside Anfield. It got worse in an F.A Cup semi-finals that same year when two fans got stabbed and a flare was fired into the Manchester United fans section of the stands. Although there has not been any chemical war fare or clashes between the two sides since then, instead, war of words have been the order of the day and it was to be further heightened when Sir Alex Ferguson was appointed in 1986.
The Scotsman was determined to eclipse Liverpool’s success in the League, thereby making the Red Devils the best in the land. The arrival of Ferguson added more “fuel” to an already burning fire of rivalry between the two clubs. When asked about his greatest challenge as the Manager of the Red Devils, he said “My greatest challenge was knocking Liverpool right off their f***ing perch and you can print that.” Ferguson was true to his words as he led Manchester United to thirteen league titles which made the Red Devils topple Liverpool as the most successful club in the land with twenty overall league titles. The Red Devils also won two more European titles and four F.A Cup titles. Manchester United still taunt Liverpool fans today as they are yet to win the new version of the Premier League since it started in 1992.
Sunday’s clash will re-ignite the age long rivalry between the two clubs. For Liverpool, they have their eyes set on winning their eighteenth consecutive league game while Manchester United, who are peddling with relegation at the moment, will look to put their poor form behind them as they search for their third league win this season.
On paper, Liverpool are favourites to win but for Ole Gunnar Solksjaer’s men, there is pride, points and prestige at stake which they wouldn’t want to lose to Liverpool in front of their home fans.